The key to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is natural selection. After working on his most famous book for more than twenty years, Darwin settled on the title – On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
The title highlights Darwin’s key to his theory: “by Means of Natural Selection.” New species emerge “by means of natural selection.” Darwin had drawn a major victory—a mechanism for evolution: random variation sifted by natural selection. Natural selection has long been considered the natural law that drives evolution, at least in evolution circles. For Darwin, “extinction and natural selection go hand-in-hand.”
In the first edition of The Origin of Species, the title of chapter four was simply “Natural Selection.” By the fifth edition, the fourth chapter title was changed to “Natural Selection; or the Survival of the Fittest.”
Anne Elizabeth “Annie” Darwin born in March 1841 was the second child and eldest daughter. Of their ten children, according to eminent Darwin scholar Janet Browne, “Anne was… the apple of her proud father’s eye, his favourite child.” Annie’s life, however, was short.
In a personal memoir, Darwin wrote, “We have lost the joy of the household, and the solace of our old age…. Oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & and shall ever love her dear joyous face.”
In the final days, Darwin had taken Annie to the Worcestershire spa town, Great Malvern while Emma was home ready to deliver their next child, Horace. Darwin described the situation to Emma as a “struggle between life and death,” adding “God preserve & cherish you.”
What had Annie died of? “My bug-bear is hereditary weakness,” Darwin wrote to his cousin William Darwin Fox.
Annie was buried the next morning at nine o’clock in the Priory Churchyard. Darwin wrote to Erasmus, his brother, to insert an obituary notice in The Times and “any other one or two of the largest Papers of largest circulation”, adding that Emma “feels bitterly, & God knows we can neither see on the any side a gleam of comfort.”
In the book entitled, Darwin, The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, Adrian Desmond and James Moore report, “This was the end of the road, the crucifixion of his hopes.”
Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson, after discovering a box containing keepsakes of Annie wrote a biography of Charles Darwin centered on the relationship between Darwin and his daughter, entitled Annie’s Box; the script of the 2009 film Creation is based on the book.
Rather than viewing Annie’s death as the happy result of natural selection, the “death was the formal beginning of Darwin’s conscious dissociation from believing in the traditional figure of God… The gradual numbing of his religious feelings over the decades, the scatological revellings of his notebooks, and the godless world of natural selection he was even creating came implacably face to face with the emptiness of bereavement. Over the following months, Darwin became more certain, more fixed on his skepticism.” Browne continues in Charles Darwin Voyaging, “Little by little, his theological doubts turned into conviction.”
It is obvious that the studies at Christ’s College, Cambridge University, had either failed to teach the Genesis account—death was the result of Adam’s rebellion against God. Or, Darwin had simply refused to accept the fact that evil, sin, and death did not originate from God.
In pursuing natural selection as a natural law of evolution, in Darwin’s words, “I had gradually come by this time… to see the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world.”
The Annie irony lies in Darwin’s promotion of natural selection, while lamenting the personal angst of natural selection. The fact is nature is a “struggle”. That is why God is angry, too, yet standing with the offer of salvation—an offer not available through natural selection.